Sunday, March 22, 2009

24" monitor saga, vs Monoprice HDMI switch HDX-401E

On March 7, I noticed a nice, 24" monitor at Microcenter in Santa Clara. It was a Sceptre brand and featured 1920x1200 resolution. It sold for $289, with a $40 rebate. That was relatively inexpensive, and I decided that it was time to replace one of the two monitors in my home office.

I was running a two monitor setup. One was a 7 year old Dell 2001FP, which was 20" and 1600x1200, which I was running with its analog VGA connection. The other monitor was a 22" Chimei CMV-221D with a resolution of 1680x1050, running using its DVI connection.

I have multiple source devices in my small home office : a Roland VS-2400CD digital audio workstation, which is a sort of embedded systems with PS/2 keyboard and mouse connections, and analog VGA video; as well as two PCs, both setup with dual monitors.

One of the switches I was using were an Iogear MiniView SE 4-port PS/2 - VGA KVM to switch the analog video and keyboard/mouse for the Dell monitor between the VS-2400CD and the 2 PCs. The other switch was a Monoprice HDMI switch, to switch the digital video of the second screen between the two PCs, with the Chimei monitor. All was running fine up to that point.

Because the new Sceptre monitor had a higher resolution - 1920x1200, I decided that it should be run with its digital DVI connection. That meant the Chimei would now be run in analog VGA. That part was no problem - and the Chimei ran fine in VGA at 1680x1050 without any visible ghosting.

The problems started when I connected the Sceptre to the HDMI switch, with the help of the very same DVI-HDMI adapter I was previously using with the Chimei DVI connection. There was troubling video corruption in the upper left corner of the screen. This corruption was minor when using the computer that was connected 6ft to the HDMI switch - for a total of 12ft of cables. But that corruption became intolerable when switching to the other computer, which was 15ft away from the HDMI switch. Through many hours of trial and error, I determined, that I could make the video corruption go away if, and only if, the Sceptre was directly connected to a single computer, with a 6ft cable, and without a switch. I also tried to directly connect it to the farther computer - but the video corruption reappeared.

The next day, on March 8, I went back to Microcenter and told him about the problem. He gave me a new unit of the same Sceptre 24" model. I plugged it in. The problem was back, instantly. I packed it, and went back to the dealer within the hour. I then picked up an HP w2408h floor model, for $299. This appeared to be a very nice monitor, with rotation capability, and a built-in USB hub.

I brought it home, and it worked fine with the HDMI switch, to my relief, without any corruption problem. I noticed that the colors were way off compared to the other Chimei monitor, and was not able to manually make adjustments to match the two screens. I figured I would use a color calibrator eventually to solve this issue.

I thought that this was the end of my monitor problems. Unfortunately, that was not to be. Over the next week, the nice HP monitor developed issue going into sleep mode, wasting electricity and heating my room unnecessarily. At other times, it would go to sleep mode, and would be unable to wake up at all, except by pulling the power cord. This was annoying. I started googling and found that this was a common issue, that was sometimes resolved by installing HP software. I had never installed software monitor. I found that there was about 100 MB worth of HP software for the monitor indeed, which I installed on both computers. This software had capabilities like auto-pivot, and software control of brightness and contrast. But it only worked properly on the one computer that had the USB connection to the monitor. And it actually did not resolve the problem with the sleep mode. The problem kept popping up. In addition to the way-off colors of this monitor, this was too much of a problem to live with. I knew I had to do something to resolve it.

On March 21, I purchased a Gateway FHD2401 24" monitor from Fry's electronics. It had a very nice picture in the store, seemingly more accurate than many other monitors. When I brought it home, it seemed to match the Chimei monitor's colors better, too. Unfortunately, trouble started immediately when I started switching computers with the HDMI switch. The monitor went into a "hung" state as soon as I switched source. The picture went black. None of the buttons on the monitor worked anymore, including the power buttons. Also, even when not switching the source, the monitor would not go to sleep when it should, just like the HP. At that point, I became extremely angry. Many expletives were heard. I spent the next few hours trying to resolve the problem, to no avail. I verified that the monitor worked perfectly fine when directly connected to either computer, even with the long HDMI cable run. But being able to switch to a different computer source on this monitor was a requirement for me. At that point, I was starting to think that I should return both this Gateway FHD2401, and the HP w2408h, and just get my old Dell 2001FP back from my boyfriend. Around 2am, I had the idea to try one last thing.

In my home theater, I had another HDMI switch. It was also from the same brand, Monoprice. It looked almost identical. But it was a slightly different model, a 5 port version, called the HDX-501. I decided to exchange the HDMI switches between the home office downstairs, and the home theater upstairs. And that did it ! With the HDX-501, the Gateway FHD2401 worked just fine. There was no longer any problem when switching computer source. It went to sleep when the computer went to sleep. And it woke up when the computer was turned on. If only I had this idea earlier. I really didn't think that the HDX-401E was the problem, since it worked fine with the Chimei CMV-221D monitor, and I did not expect that the HP or Gateway monitors should have problems. Perhaps the reason is that the Chimei is not an HDCP monitor, and the HP and Gateway monitors are HDCP, although I did not attempt to play any content that requried HDCP at any point, and have no need for it.

My home office was working with the new Gateway FHD2401 monitor and the HDX-501 switch. But I wasn't done yet. I had to test the home theater with the HDX-401E switch. The HDMI components in use were a Sanyo PLV-Z2000 projector, a Sony BDP-S300 Blu-ray player, a Dish network 722 HD DVR, and a home theater PC. Fortunately, it appeared that the HDX-401E did switching the job withoua a problem with this combination, although much more slowly than the HDX-501 - there was about a 3-5 second delay after a button press before the source was actually switched, vs about 1 second with the HDX-501 previously. I suppose I could live with that. Next came the realization that the infrared remote codes for the two switches were different. That meant my Sony RM-AV2500 universal remote could no longer switch HDMI source. I spent the next hour trying to find the tiny HDX-401E original remote, so that I could feed the proper IR codes into my RM-AV2500. I finally went to sleep at 4am.

On March 22, I returned the floor model HP w2408h monitor to Microcenter, with no issues.

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